We Are Your Friends Review
I CAME FOR THE MUSIC
(NOT THE MOVIE)
Wide known as EDM (Electronic Dance Music), this genre of music has existed for many years, gaining followers to its harmonic melodies and tub-thumping beats. Recently, in the United States, EDM has been exploded into the “main stream” of music, highlighting the popular styles from such DJ artists like Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Axwell Λ Ingrosso, and many others. With a few exceptions to a handful of certain movies, Hollywood hasn’t really made a fully fledged drama feature surrounding the world of EDM. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures released its attempt shine a fictional story on this rising genre with the film We Are Your Friends. Does this movie finds its rhythmic tone or does it failed to find its beat?
DJ Cole (Zac Efron) is living the slacker lifestyle in San Fernando Valley with friends, Ollie (Shiloh Fernandez), Mason (Jonny Weston), and Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), trying to make a profit by promoting nightclubs. After a chance encounter with famous DJ superstar James Reed (Wes Bentley), Cole gets his opportunity, winning James over with his ambition and skill as the pair collaborates on a track together. As James hones in on Cole’s skills and talents, Cole, while being taken by James’s assistant / girlfriend, Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski) is offered opportunities to change his life, while his friends are stuck in their unsatisfied lifestyle.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
I personally will admit that I am a fan of EDM music; favoring the styles in trance category (uplifting trance, balearic trance, etc) Thus I remember seeing the trailers for this movie and was kind of intrigued to see it for the music alone. Unfortunately, while We Are Your Friends gets the music right with pulse-pounding beats, it feels like a shallow endeavor that tries to speak to the millennial generation.
Max Joseph is a first time director, making Friends his directorial debut. From a technical standpoint, Joseph is better at being a visual storyteller with DJing scenes and montage sequences proven to be the best of the feature with a couple of nifty psychedelic imagery that Joseph plays with on-screen. Additionally, much like I said about Entourage, Friends offers a helping dose of hyper-real male fantasy; a sort of “Wine, Women, and Song” bravado with beautiful girls, excessive drinking, drugs, and loud bass-thumping music. For better or worse, it works for the movie. The flip side, unfortunately, is that the story’s narrative lacks a dramatic punch, lacking guidance in its theme, tone, and overall storytelling. With Joseph co-writing the screenplay (with two additional writers), Friend’s narrative is a humdrum mess. The feature’s main theme of “finding yourself” is common thread throughout the movie and touches upon all its main characters (Cole, Cole’s friends, James, and Sophie), but the end result is bland as some don’t even find themselves by the film’s ending. In short, Friends paints a picture of life in San Fernando Valley, but doesn’t fully want to tell viewers to dissect it along with its thin characters.
Proving to be the highlight of the movie, Friends’s EDM music is infectious and enjoyable. Rather than just generic “techno-ish” background music, the music used in the movie is actually pretty good with catchy tunes and foot / hand tapping beats. While the songs featured aren’t anything I’ve heard before, their all good choices and, at the very least, lend authenticity to the film’s DJing narrative. I actually might have to download the soundtrack to the movie. The movie touches slightly on the art of DJing (getting crowd into the music and the assemblage of a music track), but it’s brief. It’s kind of a disappointment because the movie had “the floor” with educating viewers on being a DJ, but chooses its messy plot story over the genre’s examination. As a side-note, there are a couple of references and jokes that DJs or people who like EDM well get.
While the pounding music helps elevate the movie, Friends’s characters are, for the most part, generically flat, regardless if the assemblage of actors do their best to play out their theatrical personas. Zac Efron has enough likeability (as well as good looks) to pull off the leading man role, but his inherit charm can’t bring Cole from being a vague and underwhelming protagonist. There’s a lot of subtle nods to Cole’s back-story (him being an orphan, a dropout, etc.), but the movie doesn’t fully examine those character nuances, which, in hindsight, hinders the movie and its overall narrative theme. It even takes a good twenty or so minutes into the movie for Cole to even develop a personality, acting as a “blank slate” main character. Efron maybe charismatic, but Cole isn’t that interesting.
Stepping down from Efron’s Cole is Wes Bentley’s James Reed. Bentley, while many will recognize from The Hunger Games and Interstellar, plays James with enough cynicism to practically owns role and is arguably probably the best (and most interesting) character in the entire film. Model / Actress Emily Ratajakowski plays Sophie, James’s assistant / girlfriend, and acts as the “forbidden love” to the main character, similar to her previous roles in both Gone Girl and Entourage. While she’s very gorgeous and Efron and her look good together, their budding romance is a little clunky and stagnant. In more supporting roles are Cole’s friends, who are more delegated to stereotypical “bro friends” archetypes. Shiloh Fernandez’s Ollie is drug dealer friend with all the hookups, while Alex Shaffer’s Squirrel is the quiet and pushover friend. Only Jonny Weston’s hothead Mason stands out as the most dymainc of the trio with a couple standout scenes.
We Are Your Friends tires to paint a broad canvas with its story, but ultimately, like many wannabe DJs out there, goes for the juggler “breakdown” with no guiding purpose or harmonic beat. The film has its moments of EDM flair and visual tricks, but barely scratches the surface into the education of the genre, leaving a mediocre feature that’s filled with shallow characters and melodrama angst for the millennial generation. Besides the music, I knew the movie wasn’t going to be that great, thus I had low expectations for it and give a slightly more favorable score than most. If you’re fan of EDM (from the bandwagon-ers to the diehards), the movie’s music alone is worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Efron, there’s enough of him in Friends to warrant a glance. For everyone else, it’s really a tossup. Like my blog title states: I came for the music (not the movie).